Sometimes I’ll take a detour through Usdan simply to linger by the curving staircase in hope that a vendor will be hawking their wares. I keep my wallet in my backpack just for this purpose, even though I usually just peruse. Most of these traveling stands sell jewelry, although a few peddle in clothes or CDs. There is only one, however, that sells all three in a fabulous assortment, yet still has a story more interesting than the eclectic array of products.
Trash American Style Mobile Mart, run by partners Malcolm Tent and Kathy Kelly, sells a multifarious assortment of items—records, clothes, vintage and handmade items, as well as piercing jewelry—that are often unlike anything else you will find locally.
“We peddle culture, specifically adornments for the human body and music preserved on vinyl,” Tent said. “You’re not going to find a Charles Manson CD just anywhere, you know.”
Kelly said that she and Tent gets their stuff from all over, and Kelly even makes some of what she sells.
“Weird stuff,” said Kelly. “Unique collectibles. I also go to trade shows and use wholesalers to acquire other unique jewelry, collectibles—the things I sell are either vintage and old or catch my eye as being special. I also manufacture a good amount of what I sell. The things I make myself are, by default, one of a kind.”
When I first asked them for an interview, I was expecting only to learn more about this eclectic stand, what they sell, and what it’s like to be traveling salesmen; I had no idea of the treasure trove of anecdotes, jokes, and personal histories I would get, for their lives as vendors are only one small part of their story. I learned that the “Trash” in Trash American Style, is a verb, not an adjective; Kelly is a disestablishmentarianist; and if you steal their stuff, watch out.
“We do not prosecute or involve authorities; we send out a pox, or curse, on thieves,” said Kelly.
However, these inimitable two did not start out as vendors, hexing thieves and haggling for prices. Their story goes way back, about 25 years.
Tent’s true love is music. He began as a musician and plays to this day. He got his start in a band called Broken Talent during the 1980s. They broke up in 1986, but not before Tent started a new band from the foundations of his old one.
“We took the tape to the local pressing plant, made 500 copies, and TPOS was whelped. Twenty-two years and 126 releases later, we’re still doing it. We put out what we like and that’s that,” Tent wrote on his website, in the section entitled “Before the Beginning.”
However, Tent, who was living in Florida at the time, sought greener pastures, even with the promise of a new band at home.
“I couldn’t stand my stupid job any more, and Kathy couldn’t stand hers,” Tent said. “Florida was driving me nuts, and it wasn’t doing Kathy any good either. Rather than stew in our own juices, we pooled our resources and made a break for it—a break from the tedium of the workaday world and the dead end sewer of Miami. We sold most of our worldly possessions, loaded the rest into a van, and hit the road heading north to Connecticut. We found a crappy old storefront, unloaded the remainder of our worldly possessions, and called the result ‘Trash American Style.’”
Eighteen years later, they were still working hard at their business, building up a dedicated fan base, searching far and wide for the best goods to sell, and enjoying the freedom from a nine-to-five office job.
“I had a high-paying corporate job, building the war machine and producing what I saw as death,” said Kelly. “I would purposely slack off and not do work, and it was never noticed at all. What a scam! I knew that the corporation was a temporary hey-day of corruption, and it would not suck me down with it! I quit the corporate fascist life to become a true capitalist. I started vending, in a nutshell, because of my dislike of being told to do something I did not believe in work-wise and an inability to be part of a corporate criminal cabal—i.e., hold a job.”
Unfortunately, some dreams come with nightmares. In February 2007, things seemed to be going great for Kelly and Tent, until their proprietor refused to renew their lease on the storefront.
“We had the best retail store in the known universe. It lasted for 21 years until we got a slap of reality in the form of the nefarious actions of our landlord,” said Tent. “Trash American Style was maneuvered out of its lease at 12 Mill Plain Road in Danbury. 18 years of being a good tenant meant absolutely nothing when push came to shove. Now our fair town is gaining a bigger print shop and some fatter landlords. Since then, we’ve been on the road.”
The road has done little to nothing to dull the spirits of these tenacious two, even though they travel far and wide across the Northeast, often for days at a time.
“We have a group of colleges that we peddle at regularly, plus we pop up at miscellaneous cool swap meets, indie flea markets, record shows, and punk rock gigs,” Tent said.
Becoming traveling vendors has, if anything, improved their lot. The two have a presence online, which allows them to maintain connections with their customer base and make regular stops more easily.
“I don’t view this as a job,” Tent said. “We’re on the road as often as possible! I have a permanent case of road fever. I completely love being a traveling peddler of culture.”
Tent also said that he loves his new freedom because it gives him the opportunity to work more on his music—he plays gigs with his band all around Connecticut and hopes to even play at the University.
Kelly enjoys the lack of rules that comes with traveling because she says that she is able to avoid the capitalist black-hole that she feels she so narrowly escaped and interact with humans on a real level.
“I am not just there to make money and go home,” Kelly said. “I enjoy connecting with the students and discussing current events. I am a flexible and forward-thinking human.”
However, their lot does not come without downfalls, pit-stops, and potholes.
“The real difficulty we face is administrative hogwash that certain bureaucracies dump in our path,” Tent said.
Kelly added that thievery is a problem, as well as the entitlement of many college students.
“There are a couple customers who make me roll my eyes, as they always pick out $27 worth of stuff and want it for $20,” Kelly said. “It is the way they ‘ask,’ as though the world owes them a living, and it does not motivate me in the least. I routinely make deals and give discounts for quantity purchases, so I don’t need to be bullied.”
The two admit that Wesleyan is one of their favorite schools and that they always look forward to coming back.
“Wesleyan students are great!” Kelly said. “I would say it’s one of my top two, three schools. Wes students seem a bit more mature than some of the other schools we do; they are polite and happy to see us.”
The pair said that the administration also adds to their positive experiences at Wesleyan.
“Frank rules!” said Kelly, speaking of Facility and Events Manager, Frank Marsilli. “I have never had any difficulty with the administration. Wes fees associated with selling are the most fair. They take a percent of sales, so if a vendor does not make a lot of money, the fees are fairly adjusted.”
The two have no plans to slow down any time soon.
“We’re enjoying life on the highway very much and we hope to meet you out there somewhere!” said Tent. “So, the story continues.”
Lucky for you, they’ll be here next Tuesday, and you can buy all the vinyl records, vintage jewelry, and items to help you “trash American style.”
You can find Trash American Style’s website at www.trashamericanstyle.us.